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Another Testament to the Power of the Imagination

Held Hostage in Sudan with Gabriel García Márquez

From Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times blog, a piece by Flavia Wagner.

Nearly four years have passed since I was kidnapped and held hostage for 105 days while working to bring education to the children of the war-torn region of Darfur, Sudan. In some respects my captivity seems all but a distant memory. The passage of time, however, will never diminish my fond recollections of my only trusted companion during those long, death-defying days—Gabriel García Márquez. With his recent passing, all of the harrowing and heart-tugging memories of our time together came flooding back.

On the fateful day my convoy was ambushed, I had the good fortune to have had in my travel bag one of the most magnificent novels of all time: García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Over the course of my own “105 days of solitude,” García Márquez (known affectionately as “Gabo”), the Buendía family and the town and inhabitants of Macondo became my refuge in a time fraught with uncertainty and hardship.

I lived alongside my captors in the open bush in the remote foothills of the Jebel Mara mountain range, moving by truck, foot and camel to countless isolated camps. A lone captive, I spent every waking and sleeping hour with dozens of armed and often inebriated men in an active conflict zone. At times, a cacophony of battle booms and blasts cracked and echoed through the night’s sky. The forbidding desert in which I lived was just as perilous: lions, hyenas and deadly snakes and insects roamed wherever the eye could see. Gabo’s magical tale provided the only escape from my otherwise dreadful reality and the constant threat placed upon my life.

By the time I was released, the book was irreparably worn. It never left my side, not even for a moment. I read from it throughout the day and by flashlight at night. I used it as a pillow upon the hard ground where I slept. Often, I awoke with it wrapped tightly in my arms like a beloved teddy bear. When I was certain I would die from a scorpion sting, I turned to the novel like one might a medical book to recall how Rebeca had fared when she was stung on her wedding night. It even served as a tool to teach certain captors English.

In the darkest days of captivity, Gabo’s visage on the book jacket was the only kind one I would see. I whispered to him that he was the most beautiful thing in the world while tracing with my finger the benevolent lines of his face. To this day, his amiable features remain etched deeply in my mind. Some mornings, when I was unsure whether I could endure another day, I invoked Gabo’s spirit to illuminate the heavenly words from his novel that read like divine providence designed to strengthen my fortitude.

I had earmarked the pages of many such passages, but I often returned to the one in which Úrsula shouted “I’m alive!” when her great-great-granddaughter thought her dead. As it happens, each morning I awoke in a profound state of existential awareness murmuring those same simple, yet miraculous words aloud. I was alive. Alive! Having suffered savagery of every magnitude, I was as astonished as I was revived by the precious gift of life afforded me. Knowing that each day could well be my last, I resolved to seize each moment, doing my utmost to treat my captors with the care and compassion I longed for in return.

So many of my experiences and fanciful visions in captivity were touched by the magical realism in Gabo’s book—the yellow butterflies that fluttered about me, my captors’ “tails of pigs,” the ascensions to heaven, the tormented and celestial apparitions. Mostly, though, it was the ethereal, enigmatic visions of Gabo himself that saw me through.

On certain forsaken days, Gabo sat by my side like a benevolent ghost to keep me company, his unfettered imagination inspiring my own wild fantasies. In troubled times he popped right off the page like a genie, his jovial face and words of encouragement cheering me on. In the midst of my greatest suffering, he wrapped his arms around me, pressing me protectively to his heart. Gabo’s presence was earthly impossible, I knew, and yet I swore that if I reached out I would feel the soft folds of his grandfatherly face that I knew so well.

“I’m so tired. So, so tired,” I once told him despairingly, my hair in a puddle on his lap. “I don’t think I am going to make it out alive.” Gabo looked paternally down upon me, uneasy with my foreboding. “Get those bad thoughts out of your head,” he commanded. “You are going to make it out of here if I have to carry you out.”

Indeed I did make it out. As I walked across the tall grassy field toward my freedom, Gabo stood waiting for me on the horizon. “We made it,” I whispered into the wind. “No, my girl,” he uttered affectionately, “you made it.”

It is years later and Gabo’s tattered novel still sits on my nightstand. The sight of it overwhelms me with gratitude and nostalgia for the otherworldly friend who roamed magically through the desert, appearing whenever I needed him most.

I realize that the spiritually liberating role Gabo played in my captivity was an invention of my mind, a way to cope with an otherwise unbearable situation. However, I like to believe that in another dimension— a magical one—he truly was there. Perhaps for a man with such unbridled imagination, no space is too great for his spirit to transcend.

A memoir of Ms. Wagner’s larger experiences in captivity will be released soon.

© 2014 The New York Times Company.

In a 2013 interview, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche explains his approach to teaching in the West and clarifies essential principles of Buddhism and Bon.

January 15, 2011 5:45 PM

January 15, 2011

Those of you who have visited here before will surely notice a change in the design of this blog. After a long period of re-imagining I have decided to change the course of this blog. It will still be named "Knowing Imagination" and subtitled "Musings on the power of the imagination" but the focus will now be quite different.

 

I have been posting on anything I found interesting around the internet that had to do with the subject of the imagination and I tried to pay for the costs of the hosting of the blog with Google ads and affiliations to sell products that were relevant. Since this generated no significant revenue- and served to clutter the site with too much distraction- I have dropped that for the foreseeable future.

 

The new content will be focussed on thoughts, ideas, and other relevant comments that will eventuate in the completion of a book I have been working on- off and on- for some time. The working title of this book is, "The Inward Eye", and is a guide to using the imagination for growing, learning, and healing. 

 

I hope you will find this interesting. I invite you to comment with the hope that I may gain encouragement and insight from your contributions. Stay tuned.

 

Poetry Fridays

April 4, 2009

Picture 3

Cool idea. The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the group that hosts the wonderful poetry festival and poetry for the schools in New Jersey, is now offering Poetry Fridays through their blog. Their blog is a wonderful source for lovers of poetry and much of the poetry from the recent festival is available now on their YouTube channel. Here's the poet Chris Abani from the first Poetry Friday post. Enjoy. Comment.

Visionary Art

January 20, 2009

One of the best examples of the use of the imagination is visionary art. According to Wikipedia: Visionary art is art that purports to transcend the physical world and portray a wider vision of awareness including spiritual or mystical themes, or is based in such experiences. Some famous artists of the past that fit this description are Hieronymous Bosch, William Blake, Gustave Moreau, and Ernst Fuchs.
One contemporary artist who is considered to be visionary, and a favorite of mine, is Alex Grey, whose work is truly mind-expanding and illustrative of experiences and conditions difficult to otherwise describe. In his book The Mission of Art (1998) he states that artistic creation can and should contribute to the enlightenment of the artist and the viewer of the art production.
Some of the many additional additional resources are The Society for Art of the Imagination; American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, MDVisionary Review; and Raw Vision Magazine.