Being Hysterically Blind in the Face of Torture

Going too far in the right direction was not new to me. Through many years of traveling in Africa I was drawn to visit a fascinating and unique ruined old spiritual center in a country in Africa where I was clearly unwelcomed. Needless to say I was drawn to this destination, or better said driven and compelled to get there. This drive was definitely not new, it drove me throughout my life to ignore obvious obstacles, to dismiss basic rules, and deny extreme dangers.

This includes an incident some years ago in which I chose to turn out the light in a crowded bunker by shooting the lightbulb out or stood still and refused to run on the heavily bombed bridge or many other similar acts of looking at death straight in the eyes.

Perhaps the most terrifying was the expected of being arrested and detained on some unclear grounds in a foreign land with no language or knowledge of the culture or the terrain. My passport, at that time was definitely not helpful, and probably put me at high risk. I was detained in a remote prison, not knowing the language, left to wander around only wearing underwear, with hundreds of men around me but with no common language or familiar culture. At night I was housed in a 6ft x 6ft cement cell, sitting on the floor with my back to the walls with three more prisoners with no way to comment, hearing the horrible, extremely loud, painful screams of tortured prisoners in the next building neither facilitated a restful night sleep nor peace of mind.



Realizing that sooner or later I was likely to be on the torture wheel myself was more that my psyche could endure and I became literally blind or as psychologists call it “Hysterical blindness” (see a military example of such temporary blindness). When they let us out of our cells I blindly stumbled into rocks, buildings and, very disoriented and fearful, into barbed wire fences. A young fellow prisoner saw my bleeding and despair and took my hand and led me around in my blindness. Night came and the piercing sounds of the tortured brought disabling anxiety and dreadful anticipation for my turn.

A few days later, my turn arrived. They tied my hands, wrapped a rough rag over my head and violently lifted me and took me, as anticipated, to the dreaded torture chamber. When they uncovered my eyes, I could see that I was tied down to a metal chair, which was bolted to the floor and was covered with splashes of dried blood on it, as well as on the floor around it. Two armed guards were standing at my side. Not far in-front of me five uniformed men with lots of decorations and stripes sat behind an elevated large table, sternly staring at me. One of them started asking questions in broken English and supposedly translated my answers to his comrades in a language unknown to me. He asked me about my military background, my education, and about the reason I came to his country. I was disoriented, frightened and could barely speak, mainly waiting for my turn to be beaten up and tortured like so many before me.

There was one odd moment when the guards were ordered to point the hanging light on me, in my mind, as a pathetic attempt to imitate torture in movie scenes where the torturers are in the dark and the tortured in the bright light. Due to the location of the hanging light this attempt resulted in forming circles around me keeping the light on my interrogators and leaving me in the dark. In the midst of fear and dread, I smiled internally and told myself “What a pathetic way to die….”

It is not clear to me to this day why I was arrested in the first place and why I was abruptly released… and was driven to the airport where a first class ticket was waiting for me… I was still disoriented and frightened to the bone. In a semi psychotic-hallucinatory state I heard my name called on the speaker in the airport to immediately come to the ticket counter. I knew at that moment that this was my end… Apparently, it was not… I flew to Kenya and spent a few weeks with my friend studying elephants in the Serengeti game reserve….I am here to tell the story… still drawn to danger and challenging death.



I saved myself from the worst of it by losing my sight. In what may just be an odd coincidence, I have an odd shadow inside of one eye that doctors and healers can’t identify.

I’ve often wondered if it is a remnant of the blindness that saved me in my other death encounters…


Detained, alone, afraid
On lands that were not my own
My face covered in shadows
In a remote prison
Screams punctuated the heavy air
Beads of sweat clung to my body like tears
Suddenly I  became hysterically blind
thinking of my own pending torture
covering my mind In cobwebs of horror
My captors shining a light on me
My release from captivity a blur of emotions
A soul full of sorrow – A shadow inside my eye,
To remind me of my ordeal.


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