How a Quebec woman survived 450 days as a prisoner in the Sahara Desert

A Quebec girl held hostage by Islamist extremists in West Africa for greater than a yr is recounting her harrowing expertise in a brand new e book.

Sherbrooke-born Edith Blais, now 37, mentioned she spent limitless hours alone along with her ideas whereas she was held captive within the scorching warmth of the Sahara Desert in Mali.

“Time was so gradual,” she informed International Information. “I used to be feeling like I used to be identical to floating into nothing.”

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Whereas being held in opposition to her will, she felt emotions of concern, of concern for her worrying household again in Canada, she mentioned.

She fearful for her then-partner Luca Tacchetto – with whom she’d been captured – and repeatedly questioned if she’d quickly be killed, or if she’d be imprisoned endlessly.

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She mentioned the determined ideas on a loop in her thoughts have been usually interrupted by the desert itself.

Nothing is comfy within the desert, that’s for positive,” she mentioned. “The flies, the scorpions, the vipers… You’re attacked all day lengthy by all of this stuff.”

Taken hostage

Blais recounted how her ordeal started. She had jumped on the chance to discover Africa by automotive with Tacchetto. They drove to the western a part of the continent all the way in which from his residence nation of Italy.

Alongside the journey, the pair made a mistake that may change their lives endlessly. With web connectivity scarce and the pair in a rush, they didn’t adequately analysis part of Burkina Faso they have been driving by.

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“We noticed six males, all with AK-47s blocking the road, and so they began operating to the automotive,” she recounted.

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Blais was satisfied they’d be shot lifeless that very second. As a substitute, it turned out to be the start of 450 days in captivity.

She spent the primary three months with Tacchetto, however the captors separated them after they engaged in a 25-day starvation strike. Once they ended it, she says the Islamic extremists disadvantaged them of water for 5 days within the scorching desert as punishment.

“I bear in mind I used to be laying down and I used to be simply feeling the wind on my mouth, and I used to be simply concentrating on that simply to maintain my thoughts off of my thirst,” she mentioned.

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Tacchetto informed International Information that interval stuffed him with concern greater than every other.

“I felt I used to be dying,” Tacchetto mentioned through Zoom final Wednesday from Italy. “And I felt she was dying too, with me.

Issues bought tougher for each of them after they have been separated.

Tacchetto says he tried to flee a number of instances, resulting in violent punishment from the extremists.

Blais says she was by no means bodily abused by her captors however was alone for a number of months. The isolation was extraordinarily troublesome.

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She did spend time with another feminine captives, one in every of whom informed her she’d been there for years.

That’s when Blais bought a pen.

“That was like essentially the most great treasure that I had in my life,” she mentioned.

Blais was lastly capable of write poems, a lot of which made it into her e book concerning the ordeal now being printed in English, entitled ‘The Weight of Sand.’

“I used to be writing so much about nature, concerning the wind, concerning the sand, and I used to be feeling prefer it was with me,” Blais recounted.

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Ultimately, she heard from her captors that Tacchetto was alive and had transformed to Islam. She agreed to transform too.

Pondering they have been now a married Muslim couple, the extremists reunited the pair. Tacchetto in contrast that second to a “rebirth,” as a result of he’d had no concept if Blais was even nonetheless alive up till that time.

“We have been allowed to have slightly place, slightly bit farther from them and to make slightly shelter so that they wouldn’t see us, so we’d have some privateness. So truly, due to that, we have been capable of escape with out them figuring out,” Blais mentioned.

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Their escape

Blais mentioned she and Tacchetto waited for a windy night time so their tracks within the sand can be hidden. They fled, despite the fact that they thought their odds of truly making it out have been fairly slim.

Tacchetto mentioned he had initially disagreed with making an attempt one other escape, due to the painful penalties of his earlier failed makes an attempt.

“I used to be actually scared about doing it once more and failing once more. However, I’ve to say that she had the braveness and the nice power to persuade me,” he informed International Information.

After they walked all night time, they managed to discover a street.

“We ran after three vans and the third truck stopped and he picked us up,” Blais mentioned.

She defined {that a} group of extremists even stopped the truck, and the motive force lied to save lots of them.

We referred to as him our guardian angel,” she mentioned.

Blais lastly bought again to Canada in March 2020, solely to run into COVID-19 restrictions. Her mom joined her in a 15-day quarantine.

“I used to be like, are you kidding me?” Blais mentioned by laughter. “I used to be quarantined for 15 months!”

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Tacchetto hopes their ordeal serves as a cautionary story for different backpackers.

Blais hopes her expertise reveals others that even within the darkest hour, there’s at all times hope.

© 2021 International Information, a division of Corus Leisure Inc.

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