How the Syrian Revolution has transformed me

 

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The world revolves around Palestine, or so I thought until 2011.

The Palestinian cause, I argued, was the litmus test for anyone’s commitment to freedom and justice. Palestine was the one and only compass that must guide any Arab revolution. Whether a regime is good or bad should be judged, first and foremost, based on its stance from the Palestinian cause. Every event should somehow be viewed through a Palestinian lens. The Arab people have failed us, and we inspired the entire world with our resistance.

 

Yes, I called myself internationalist. I claimed to stand for universal and humanist ideals. I blathered on and on about breaking borders and waging a socialist revolution.

But then came Syria, and my hypocrisy and the fragility of those ideals became exposed.

 

When I first heard the Syrian people in Daraa demand a regime reform on 18 March 2011, all I could think about, subconsciously, was: “If the Egyptian scenario happens in Syria, it would be a disaster for Palestine.”

I did not think about those who were killed by the regime on that day. I did not think of those arrested or tortured.

I did not think about the inevitable crackdown by the regime.

I did not greet the incredibly courageous protests in Daraa with the same elation and zeal I felt during the Tunisian, Egyptian, Bahraini, Yemeni, and Libyan uprisings.

All I could muster was a sigh of suspicion and fear.

“Assad is a tyrant and his regime is rotten,” I thought to myself, “but the subsequent results of its fall might be catastrophic for Palestine and the resistance.” That sacred axis of resistance meant to me back then much more than the Syrian lives being cut short by its defenders.

I was one of those whose hearts would pound when Hassan Nasrallah appeared on TV. I bookmarked loads of YouTube videos of his speeches and teared up while listening to songs glorifying the resistance and its victories.

And while I supported the demands of the Syrian protesters in principle, I did so with reluctance and it was a conditional support. It was not even solidarity because it was so selfish and always centered around Palestine.

I retweeted a blog post by an Egyptian activist calling on Syrians to carry Palestinian flags, in order to “debunk” regime propaganda. The Syrian people took to the streets defending the same universal ideals that I claimed to stand for, yet I was incapable of viewing their struggle outside my narrow Palestinian prism. I claimed to be internationalist while prioritizing Palestinian concerns over Syrian victims. I shamelessly took part in the Suffering Olympics and was annoyed that Syrian pain occupied more newspaper pages than Palestinian pain. I was too gullible to notice that the ordeals of both Syrians and Palestinians are just footnotes and that the breaking news would become too routine, too dull and unworthy of consumption in the space of few months.

I claimed to reject all forms of oppression while simultaneously waiting for the head of a sectarian militia to say something about Syria and to talk passionately about Palestine.

 

The Syrian revolution put me on trial for betraying my principles. But instead of condemning me, it taught me the lesson of my life: it was a lesson given with grace and dignity.

It was delivered with love, by the women and men dancing and singing in the streets, challenging the iron fist with creativity, refusing to give up while being chased by security forces, turning funeral processions into exuberant marches for freedom, rethinking ways to subvert regime censorship; introducing mass politics amidst unspeakable terror; and chanting for unity despite sectarian incitement; and chanting the name of Palestine in numerous protests and carrying the Palestinian flag without needing a superstar Egyptian blogger to ask them to do so.

It was a gradual learning process in which I had to grapple with my own prejudices of how a revolution should “look like,” and how we should react to a movement against a purportedly pro-Palestinian regime. I desperately tried to overlook the ugly face beneath the mask of resistance worn by Hezbollah, but the revolution tore that mask apart. And that was not the only mask torn apart, many more followed. And now the real faces of self-styled freedom fighters and salon leftists were exposed; the long-crushed Syrian voices emerged.

How can one not be inspired by a people rediscovering their voices, transforming folk songs and football chants into revolutionary chants? How can one not be taken aback by protests choreographed in front of tanks?

 

The Syrian geography was much more diverse and rich than that promoted by the regime and the official narrative collapsed as Syrians from the margins reconstructed their own narratives. The Syrian rainbow had many more colors than those permitted by the regime. And Syrians could raise their voices in places other than football stadiums, using their famous victory chant in public squares and streets to curse Hafez al-Assad, the “eternal leader.”

 

If Hafez al-Assad’s name could only be whispered with trembles before 2011, people at last could vociferously curse him and his son, shaking both the physical as well as the symbolic hegemony of this dynasty to its foundations.

 

I could not remain neutral as Syrians redefined the feasible and stretched the boundaries of people power, albeit briefly, during those early months of fatal hope.

Wouldn’t remaining impartial have been an act of treason to anything I claimed to stand for? How could I possibly read out Howard Zinn’s quote “You cannot be neutral on a moving train” to those sitting on the fence on Palestine, while I was doing the same on Syria? The Syrian revolution crumbled the fence from under me. I rediscovered my voice thanks to the mass mobilization I witnessed in Syria. I would listen to clips from Syrian protests, memorize their chants, and repeat them in Palestinian protests. Thinking of the fearlessness of Syrians would immediately make my voice louder and help make me overcome any slight semblance of fear.

 

You do not choose the nationality into which you were born but you don’t have to be bound by its shackles.

My Syrian identity, my sense of belonging to the Syrian revolution, was not forced onto me. I chose to adopt it. I never stepped foot in Syria. It was not until 2013 that I first met a Syrian not from the Occupied Golan Heights in the flesh, face to face. My main way of connecting with Syrians was and remains through social media and Skype. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel Syrian and completely identify with the struggle.

Until 2011, my talk about breaking borders and internationalist solidarity was but a soundbite, mere rhetorics. Thanks to the Syrian uprising, I finally understood what solidarity is really about.

 

I always expected people to support the Palestinian cause without imposing conditions, without preaching or lecturing, without dictating. When the Syrian uprising erupted, I acted exactly like those armchair preaches demanding a jasmine revolution from Palestinians, constantly asking us about the New Gandhi and MLK. But as the revolution went on, I could finally comprehend the true meaning of solidarity from below, a solidarity that is unconditional yet also critical. I saw how people like martyr Omar Aziz applied horizontal self-governance in some of the more conservative and traditional neighborhoods, and I learned from his model.

I learned the meaning of communal solidarity and Palestinian-Syrian togetherness from the Palestinian residents of Daraa refugee camp: they risked their lives to smuggle bread and medicine and break the siege on the rising city of Daraa. It was not just a humanitarian act; it was a political statement and the beginning of the formation of an identity, that of the Palestinian-Syrian revolutionary.

 

Khaled Bakrawi, a Palestinian refugee from Yarmouk, and Zaradasht Wanly, a Syrian youngster from Damascus, were both injured by Israeli occupation forces during “return marches” to the Golan Heights in 2011. Both Khaled and Zaradasht were murdered by the Syrian regime: the former was killed under torture, the latter was shot dead during a peaceful protest.

 

Syrians marched in solidarity with Gaza amid the rubble of their houses destroyed by Syrian regime air strikes. The Syrian Revolutionary Youth put out posters against the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the Naqab when most of the group’s members were in hiding, jails, exile, or graves.

Such is the solidarity of the oppressed which Syrians turned from rhetorics to practice. How can one not admire it?

 

If the Second Intifada in October 2000 shaped the political consciousness and national identity of an 11-year-old girl who had just left her tiny village to move to the city; the first wave of the Syrian revolution in March 2011 rebirthed a woman making her more confident steps in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, my city, the one I chose to call home, could not by any means be liberated by the oppressors of my people, of Syrians. Jerusalem’s spirit cannot be hijacked by those bombing a hospital carrying its name.

Far from struggling to reconcile my Palestinian and Syrian identity layers, The Syrian uprising made me even more committed to the struggle for Palestinian liberation: the liberation of the land from the occupier and the liberation of the cause from dictators and bandwagoners.

 

And while I parted company with people I once regarded comrades because of their support for the Syrian regime, I also gained new, lifelong friendships that have imbued my world with warmth and strength.

 

I owe so much to the Syrian revolution, which re-created me. I have no status or self-importance or willingness to speak on behalf of anyone, let alone on behalf of the Palestinian people, but I personally owe an apology to the Syrian people. I should have never hesitated in supporting their just cause. I should have never privileged geopolitical concerns over Syrian lives; and I should have never been so naively deceived by the propaganda of the resistance axis.

I owe an apology to a people who, for decades, were trodden upon, silenced, and humiliated in the name of my own cause; to a people whose only encounter with “Palestine” was in a prison dungeon carrying this name; the people who were blamed and mocked for being so docile yet when they did rise up, they were abandoned.

I owe an apology to a people who are blamed for a carnage committed against them, just as we have been, and who have been betrayed by an opposition pretending to represent them, just as we have been, too. I owe an apology to a people cynically called upon to bring an alternative to the Assad regime and Islamists while bombs and missiles fall on their heads. Those same people asking “Where is the alternative?” ignore that Syrians who were ready to offer a progressive vision have either been jailed, killed or displaced by the regime.

One would think that Palestinians know the cynicism behind the question of alternatives that they wouldn’t pose it to another oppressed people fighting to build everything from scratch.

 

Yet despite contradictions, Palestinians and Syrians do share the same yearning for freedom, the same burning desire to live in dignity and the dream to walk in the streets of the Old City of Damascus and the Old City of Jerusalem.

The road we shall cross to get there, though, is not the one that the regime and Hezbollah saturated with Syrian corpses, but one paved with the hands of Palestinian and Syrian freedom fighters: by people who know that their freedom is always incomplete without the freedom of their sisters and brothers.

 

 

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عن نسوية الصالونات وأصوات النساء ذوات الإعاقة

في موقع حبر

حين تقدّمت للعمل في جمعية نسوية قبل التحاقي بالجامعة، كان سقف توقّعاتي منخفضًا. فقد كنت أصغر المشتركات وأقلهن خبرةً ومجرّد دعوتي إلى المقابلة كان أمرًا مفاجئًا. إذن، ما شكّل صفعة قاسية لكبريائي لم يكن الرّفض بحد ذاته، بل الطريقة التي تعاملت بها ممثّلات الجمعية النسوية معي أثناء المقابلة.

كان السؤال الأول الذي طرحنه هو «لماذا لم تذكري في سيرتك الذاتية أنك تعانين من إعاقة؟». حاولت تجاوز الإهانة المتمثّلة بالسؤال والتي ينضح بها إلصاق صفة المعاناة بالإعاقة الجسدية، واستفضت بالشرح والكلام وكنت واثقة أنني «أفحمتهنّ»، ولكن سرعان ما أدركت سذاجة تلك الثّقة بعد سماع السؤال الثاني من المديرة: «ولكن هنالك جمعيّات مخصصة لأصحاب الإعاقة وللمكفوفين تحديدًا، أليس من الأفضل أن تتقدمي للعمل في إحداهن فالعمل هنا سيكون صعبًا عليك؟».

كان في نبرتها مزيج من الشّفقة والاستهجان. الشعوران قد يبدوان متناقضين للوهلة الأولى، ولكن تجربتنا الحياتية تثبت أنهما منسجمان تمامًا، فالشّفقة هي محاولة بائسة لتلطيف الإهانة وتغليفها بتعاطف إنساني كاذب لم نطلبه أصلًا. Continue reading “عن نسوية الصالونات وأصوات النساء ذوات الإعاقة”

Celebrating Vulnerability

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Mother nature, or daughter nature, whatever…. – Drawn by Diala Brisly

It takes a daunting—often deflating—process to confront the fact that you are excluded from the carefully minted social rubric designed for women. Even more difficult, however, is transforming this confrontation with exclusion from a source of self-abnegation and pathos into a ferment of rebellion. Its spark is our conviction that the standards determined for beauty and social recognition are inherently racist, sexist, and ableist. Only when we arrive at this critical juncture are we able to challenge those standards, re-shape our relationship with our bodies, and abandon the quest for recognition.

Yet we have largely internalized the corporate-set standards for beauty and femininity as universal truths, blaming ourselves for failing to fit into the strict molds prescribed by our communities.
Unfair as this may be, we accept that beauty and physical disability are mutually exclusive and that disabled women should never expect to lead a mainstream family life. No. You are not a woman, but a story. Permanently featured under the tag “inspirational,” lauded for overcoming disability by achieving academic or professional success, invited to speak on the triumph of willpower in the face of seemingly extraordinary odds, perhaps one day “lucky” enough to have a documentarian and a melancholic music soundtrack follow you around. Rarely, however, does something occur to those applauding and showering you with hackneyed clichés about how “it’s all in the head,” inviting you to “inspire” others with feel-good stories about living with disability: rarely does it occur to them to ever think about you as a woman first.

During a charged discussion I had with two friends (the three of us blind Palestinian women in our mid or late twenties), we exchanged tidbits about our daily lives in occupied Jerusalem, about being visibly different in places where difference is not embraced, and about being physically disabled in spaces where disability is closeted. Things got heated when we talked about love, family and kids. “Let’s change the topic,” exclaimed one. “I’ve given up on these cogitations a long time ago. The chances any of us will be loved or considered fit for marriage, let alone get the chance to make a family and have kids, are virtually nonexistent. Why hope for something that won’t happen anyway?”
“Don’t give up hope,” responded my second friend. “Several guys from neighbouring villages inquired to my father about me and if I’m thinking of marriage. They immediately backtrack, though, the moment they are told about the usual caveat, that I’m blind.”

I resisted the temptation to flaunt the advantages of non-heteronormativity and avoided appeals for abolishing marriage altogether. Instead I said with a heavy air of cynicism. “Thankfully, my potential admirers are spared the aftershock of such truly earth-shattering revelations since my disability is visible!”

I was now celebrating it, but it had been the visibility of it all that had long made reconciling with my disability a persistent struggle. At age thirteen, my teacher had publically “advised” me to wear black glasses because my eyes distorted my entire face and hiding them would spare me the public embarrassment. It was not the first time I had been so openly made to feel different, but out of all the insults I had been accustomed to from people on the street and by my classmates, this teacher’s were the most demeaning of all. They were expressed with such authoritative, patronizing, and paternalistic concern that I failed to respond or tell him that it was none of his business. For months I remember trying to ask my mother if she thought my eyes look so deformed. Did she think I was ugly? I couldn’t.

I suspected that she’d give me the talk about inner beauty, or that beauty was in the eye of the beholder. None of that would have eased my teenage distress. In fact, I only considered those comments desperately well-meaning, obviously serving to console those who, like me, are not considered beautiful by mainstream society. I came to dislike my eyes and my body and even briefly considered undergoing a plastic surgery on my eyes. I made sure to wear sunglasses in public and to abstain from posing in front of a camera because I did not want to ruin group pictures. It was not the fact that I couldn’t see that hurt me quite as much as the way I was seen – or unseen by others. I became convinced that failing to date anyone during my university years was because I was simply not good enough. During those years, I quickly quelled any inkling of romantic affection towards any of my peers, constantly reminding myself that such feelings are an excessive commodity that most disabled women cannot afford.

So it was in this regard that the internet’s virtual world was a blessing. I found that I could interact with people for years without them knowing about my disability, all in a place where the issue didn’t really matter at all. While I have never felt embarrassed of it, even if there have been moments when I cursed it and when I wished I could see, it was never something I was ashamed or shy of. Still, I found relief in virtual spaces where people knew nothing about my disability, where I was not marked out or stigmatized or treated with overt respect or offensive sympathy.
Being different does, however, have a slew of advantages. It relieved me of many of the social obligations that encumber able-bodied women of my age. I was never rebuked for not attending family-related events and celebrations, allowing me to enjoy a relative margin of privacy. I was never pestered by typical questions about when I was going to get married (which I have come to appreciate considering how frequently women of my age have to face this question). Older women in our family never bother me with their wishes for me to get married and have children, and that’s a relief! But I am simultaneously aware to the ableist notion that lies behind this different treatment; they still see me as a girl, not a woman. Yet it was not like I was spared the restrictions imposed by the patriarchal system. In fact the restrictions are even more stringent for disabled females, and all the worse since we have to deal with patriarchy dressed in the attire of extra paternal concern and apprehension.

It was also the visibility of my blindness, indeed, even more than blindness itself, that has regularly led me to repress my vulnerabilities and cloak them under the veil of strength and mental toughness. I was obsessed with appearing strong, always feeling the onerous weight of expectations on my shoulders; that I must prove that despite my disability, I can do anything just as good, if not better than anyone else. I had to prove that I’m not in need of anyone’s sympathy or help. I had to prove that I’m perfectly independent and that disability did not constitute an obstacle whatsoever for me. It was the obsession of meeting those lofty standards that made it inconceivable for me to articulate my vulnerabilities, even to myself. I wanted to fit the paradigm of the successful person who overcame disability and who is expected to be a role model for other people.

I can go on about the problems afflicting this particular discourse that many people with disability are forced to follow. It, for one, depoliticizes the whole issue and makes it seem as though it’s just a matter of individual perseverance and determination, ignoring that the struggle for disability rights is collective and inseparable from the anti-capitalist struggle for social justice. It also reduces people with disability to a homogenous group, and it gives the impression that there are two binaries: either the person who overcame disability to become an inspiration; or the person who failed to overcome disability and as such deserves pity and even rejection.

Yet, such binary discourse does not even begin to scratch the surface of the struggle with disability.
Even those who are privileged enough to satisfy the common standards for success despite their disability have their own vulnerabilities and should not shy away from expressing and sharing them, for they are not the superhuman models that many want them to be. It took me almost twenty-five years on this planet to finally allow myself the right to appear vulnerable. While I draw strength from people who tell me, directly or indirectly, that I managed to change their perception of people with disability and that they have great deal of respect for me, at times I have my own breakdowns. Tired of the gesticulations of pity that scorch my ears on that day, I decided to just go home and release my accumulated anger and vitriol.

“Ain’t I a woman?” I wondered. I folded my white cane and smashed it to the ground and then pulled off my shirt. I meticulously touched my breasts and passed my fingers around my nipples, I touched my waists, thighs and vagina, as if to remind myself of what so many insist to ignore: I am a woman and I have a strong sexual desire and a sexuality that is perverse, erratic and occasionally repressed and self-censored, but it’s very much there. I want to feel loved, to be told “you look pretty tonight,” and to cuddle someone else other than my duvet. I fear loneliness and I don’t want to censor or repress my emotions anymore, and I don’t want to conceal my eyes or hate them. I don’t want to feel naïve for wanting all of these things. Our dreams can be as big as liberating Palestine and as small as not being alone on a cold night.

But if disability makes it hard for a woman to fit into the mold prescribed by society, then it’s the molds that need to be changed, not us. If we fail to meet the standards of beauty and femininity because of our disability, aberrational eyes or canes, then it’s those standards that need to be smashed, not our canes.

When Sojourner Truth let out her indignant cry “Ain’t I a woman?”, she was screaming for all of us: all the misfits and outcasts who want to overthrow all systems of oppression from white supremacy and colonialism, to patriarchy and ableism. She was speaking for all of us who want to lead radical changes in our own oppressed communities but without looking to the oppressor/colonizer for saving. Her words echo the struggle that we have to wage today: a struggle that moves beyond the theoretical framework of intersectionality; a struggle that does not treat disability rights as a subaltern cause, but rather puts them in the forefront of any movement demanding liberation and justice; a struggle where people with disability are not treated as a burden or as a mere sign of diversity, but rather as leaders of the movement, a movement where our vulnerabilities are not ridiculed, but embraced.

في انتظار حسن كراجة.. والمجدّرة!

6 شهور و14 يوم مرّوا على اعتقالك.
طولت الغيبة كثير يا حسن، وأنا اشتقتلَّك بحجم شوق زَتون قريتك صفّا لمطر كانون!

اشتقت لطُوَشنا المستمرّة على الثّورة السّوريّة!
بتصدّق؟ لا، وأنا كمان مش مصدقة.. ما كنتش متوقعة أقول هاي الجملة بحياتي. إنت بس إطلع يا صديقي، وأنا جاهزة نتجادل بالشّأن السّوري قد ما بدّك. بس شوف، المهم ثمينة ما تكونش موجودة حقنًا لدمائنا إحنا الاثنين.

اشتقت لمناكفاتنا حول اليسار التّقليدي والفصائل الفلسطينيّة.
بتتذكّر لما انتقدت الجبهة الشّعبيّة بإحدى تغريداتي على تويتر وأنت اعتبرتها مزاودة؟ وقتها قلتلّي روحي اخطفي طيّارة بعدين إحكي. صحيح إنّي عصّبت منّك ومن أسلوبك يومها، بس يا سيدي أنت اطلع إسّا واعترض على “مزاوداتي” قد ما بدّك.

اشتقت لصوتك الهادر بالمظاهرات.. بتعرف إنّه صوتك بالمظاهرات بيعطينا كلنا جرعة مكثّفة من الأمل والحماس؟ وبتعرف إنّه مظاهرات دعم الأسرى في بيتونيا كمان هي حَنَّت لصرخاتك بوجه الاحتلال؟ إطلع عشان نتظاهر ونهتف سوا للأسرى.

6 أشهر و14 يوم.. طوّلت الغيبة كثير يا حسن. وأنا اشتقتلَّك.

اشتقت لهتافاتك وشعاراتك المناوئة للسلطة الفلسطينية ولأوسلو وللتّطبيع والتّنسيق الأمني. إطلع بسرعة يا حسن، عشان الحِراك المناهِض لاستئناف مهزلة المفاوضات بحاجة لوجودك!
واشتقت لتفاؤلك.. يا إلهي قدّيش بفتقد تفاؤلك يا حسن..  ثقتك الرّاسخة بحتميّة التّحرير دايمًا بتمدّني بطاقة إيجابيّة على الرّغم من تشاؤمي المزمن. إطلع لأنّا بحاجة لطاقتك الإيجابيّة أكثر من أيّ وقت ثاني. ولّا بدّك مخطَّط برافر يمرّ وأنت بالسّجن يعني؟
واشتقت للهجتك. ولا مرّة تسنّالي أحكيلك إنّي بحبّ لهجتك كثير، وبنبسط كيف كلنا منصير نحكي فلّاحي لمّا نقعد معك.. إطلع لإنّك أنت الوحيد اللي بتقدر تخلّي ثمينة تصير تحكي فحماوي قُحّ. وعلى فكرة، إباء رزق بتوعدك إنها مش رح تضحك على الـ”هسّا” تبعتك من هون ورايح، أنت بس إطلع!

بتتذكّر العلم الفلسطيني اللي أعطيتني اياه؟  فش مظاهرة بنزل عليها إلّا وهذا العلم بيكون معي. يمكن قلتلَّك مرّة إنّي بكره كلّ الأعلام، لكن هذا العلم بالذّات إله مكان خاصّ بقلبي لإنّه إلك.. ومع إنّه ريحته غاز وتراب دايمًا، مش رح أغسله غير لتطلع!

6 أشهر و14 يوم.. طوّلت الغيبة علينا كثير يا حسن!

قبل ما الصّهاينة يعتقلوك وعدتني تعزمني على مجدّرة بصفّا، وكرّرت هذا الوعد حتّى وأنت بالسّجن. طيّب بدّك الصّراحة؟ أنا بدّي اياك تطلع تحديدًا لإني عم أنتظر هاي العزيمة على أحرّ من الجمر. لإنّي بدي آكل مجدّرة وأشرب فنجان قهوة معك، ومع إمّك العظيمة وأختك الأسيرة المحرَّرة صمود.
وفيه شغلة مهمّة ولا مرّة حكيتلك اياها، يمكن بسبب جدالاتنا المشحونة. أنا بحبّك وبحترمك جدًّا يا حسن، وفخورة إنّك بتتذكّرني حتّى وأنت داخل الزِّنزانة.
متأكدة إنّه السّجّان مستحيل يقدر يكسرك، وإنّه هاي التّجربة رح تخلّيك أقوى، بس إحنا والبلد اشتقنالك كثير. وإلك عليّ لمّا تطلع أدبك بعُرسك أنت وسندس، مع إنّي بحضرش أعراس أبدًا وبعرفش أدبك.

الحُرّيّة إلك ولجميع الأسرى في سجون الاحتلال.. للآلاف اللي ما منعرف أسماءهن واللي قضيّتهن كانت دائمًا همّك الأوَّل. الحرّيّة بتلبقهلن.. وبتلبقلَكّ.

A very personal post: I miss sunshine

It has been a year and a half since I last saw the sun. The overwhelming nostalgia for the light struck me again this morning as the warm rays of sun teasingly kissed my cheeks. I summoned all my mental toughness and inner strength to hold back the tears. That heavy lump in my throat is back. A deafeningly loud voice from inside incessantly urges me as I walk towards the bus stop: “Don’t you dare cry, Budour. Just don’t!” That heavy lump in the throat is back and is now splattered with my detained tears. The suffocating feeling of loneliness is back, too. Only a certain someone’s hand could erase the squeezing loneliness and darkness, but he is out of reach and his hand is too far away.

“Don’t you dare cry, Budour” kept ringing in my ears as drops of salty water trickled from my eyes and soaked the frame of my sunglasses.

* * * *

I was with my father when the ophthalmologist performed the dreaded finger-counting test on me. I have always despised this test and it has always been one of the reasons I hated doctor visits so violently. I particularly did not like to perform these tests in front of my parents. I could hear their tortured sighs when I’d make a mistake. I would automatically heave a sigh of relief when I’d get the right answer. That relief was for my parents’ sake more than anything else. In the last finger-counting test I did, I did not get any right answer, for I could not see the doctor’s fingers at all. As I was leaving the hospital with my father, clasping his sweat-drenched hand, I could feel his scorching tears. For all my trenchant, uncompromising opposition to patriarchy in all its forms; and for all my unwavering rejection of all the readily-accepted stereotypes about manhood, I have not managed to get over them completely yet. I cannot handle seeing – or listening to – my father cry. I summoned all my mental toughness and inner strength to hold back my own tears. A deafeningly loud voice from inside urged me as I clutched my father’s arm: “Don’t you dare cry, Budour! Just don’t!” That heavy lump in the throat, splattered with my detained tears, was there. It almost suffocated me. I reacted by telling my father silly jokes, by laughing away the tears, and by appearing incredibly calm, cool and collected. Crying is a privilege I am only allowed to use when I am on my own, I said to myself, and there is always a silver lining. This would be my last finger-counting test ever.

* * * *
It has been a year and half since I lost my sight completely. It has been six months since I was told by doctors that I have no hope of getting it back. This topic remains somewhat of a taboo for me. There are very few people whom I trust enough to talk about it.

Today, though, I finally decided to make this confession in public because I am tired of concealing.

I am tired of smiling away the tears in order to preserve the facade of mental toughness.

I am tired of putting up with chronic eye pain silently so as not to disturb my loved ones.

I am tired of appearing like the epitome of strength when there is a very fragile part inside me, a part which I have always strived to hide and suppress.

I am tired of people singing my praise for being “determined” and for “overcoming my disability.

I am tired of constantly speaking about the importance of willpower and how it is all about the mind, not the eyes.

I am tired of all the clichés I have been repeating since the age of six. There used to be a time when repeating these clichés was not excruciating. It was back when I could still distinguish faces, places and colours. I could only see a little, but little things mean a lot, as Cliff Richard would tell you.

I am tired of not being able to read all the books I want to read because they are not available in Braille versions.

I am tired of being a theme of inspirational documentaries.

I am tired of being treated, at times, like a creature from outer space when I get on the bus holding my cane.

I am tired of people’s pity just as much as I am tired of people’s excessive and patronising admiration, admiration that I do not think I deserve.

I am tired of able-ist language and of having to explain over and over again that using the word “blind” as a derogatory term is offensive and disrespectful.

I am tired of people who think the rights of disabled persons to accessible services and the full respect of society is post-modern luxury rather than a basic right.

I am tired of people who think a blind person cannot hear or walk alone. I am tired of those who believe that people with disability cannot lead an independent life.

I am tired of being nice to people who insult me with their remarks because I know they did not have an intention to hurt. Why should

I have to swallow their insults silently and move on as if nothing had happened?

I am tired of a litany of other things, but above all, I am tired of darkness and I want to say it out loud once and for all.

Yes, I am tired of darkness. Darkness is mentally and physically exhausting.

I miss colours, especially red and green.

I miss my father’s beautiful eyes.

I miss seeing the sea in acre for smelling it. Hearing the sounds of the waves is just not enough.

I miss seeing football matches, for listening to the commentary is just not enough.

I miss seeing Richard Gasquet’s gorgeous backhand, for hearing the quasi-musical sound it makes when he strikes it cleanly is not enough.

And, above all, I miss sunshine.

* * * *

By writing this post, I do not seek to draw readers’ sympathy. I wrote this to express feelings I have never had the courage and resolve to put into words. Thus I finally broke a major taboo and a huge psychological barrier. It is an historic period of revolutions in our region, and this post is my very own revolution against my own fears, prejudices and silence.

PS: The author of this post remembers that a certain someone promised to allow her to see sunshine in his eyes. He managed to do so, but it was short-lived and painfully brief, like all beautiful things in life.

P.P.S: My thoughts yearn for Freedom to all prisoners, particularly prisoners of conscience, languishing in the dark dungeons of oppression and the cold cells of injustice. Not only are they deprived of the sun’s gleam, they are also deprived of its warmth. The privileged masses outside the prison walls cannot begin to understand their feelings.