A series of events happen to Mohammad, from boarding school and the punishments inflicted by the superintendents to love stories, bullying and job hunting.
The superintendent forced Mohammad and his friend into a separate room. He put on a movie about death, raised the volume up and turned off the lights before leaving the room and locking the door. The boys stayed there, alone, in the dark.
Throughout the movie’s one hour running time, the two boys lived moments of horror unlike any other. It was a cold wintery night, the sounds of thunder clapping and hail thudding on the window only added to their fear.
To this day, twenty years after, its horror remains etched in Mohammad’s memory.
The superintendent of their boarding school had deliberately chosen a horror movie. The purpose was certainly not to entertain the two children, but rather to punish them. Going back to his bed that night, Mohammad could not sleep. How could he when the specter of death hovered around him?
– “I would have preferred to get a beating at the time. There is no force in the world capable of making me forget that punishment.”
After more than twenty years, he still finds himself unable to sleep on some nights, haunted by the memory of the painful incident.
His family could not find a public school capable of taking care of him in Nabatyeh, so he was forced to leave his village of Kfar Kila and move to Beirut
Mohammad entered the boarding school of Al Hadi Institute for Blind, Deaf and Learning Disabilities in 1993. His family could not find a public school capable of taking care of him in Nabatyeh, so he was forced to leave his village of Kfar Kila and move to Beirut. He spent eighteen years away from his family, visiting them for two days every two weeks.
Those eighteen years were spent under the authority of supervisors and teachers who implemented a strict policy by which the students were denied the right to object or say “no” to anything. He had to wake up at six in the morning every day, then head to the kitchen for breakfast, where he was entitled to no more than one plate of food, even if he asked for or begged the superintendents.
Then, he would go to the playground, where the teachers gathered while students played and had fun, waiting for the bell to announce the start of their school day.
In class, Mohammad spent his time with the teachers, whom he preferred to the supervisors, because they were the ones who had helped empowering him, both academically and socially.
In recess, he spent his time with Israa, his first love. They knew each other since they were nine years old. Needless to say, he had not been attracted by her appearance. They were both blind. What he loved was her “sweet soul” and her kindness. He spent seven academic years with her, in an experience he will remember with every new romantic relationship in the future.
The worst time for Mohammad was the time following school hours. What bothered him most was that some of the students went to their homes and families while he had to return to the boarding section.
During lunchtime, the one-plate scenario repeated itself and the playground kiosk was open for no longer than fifteen minutes. This limited-time rarely allowed him to get there and buy what he wanted.
– “Whoever arrived first got to buy, and those who were late would have to wait until the next day to have a chance,” he explains.
Students also had to consume what they bought in the playground, as the school regulations prohibited them from bringing any food into their dormitory rooms.
After lunch, Mohammad joined his friends in the living room to study and do his homework. This time was also subject to regulations, therefore, if he wanted to go to the bathroom or drink some water, he had to ask for permission from the supervisor; otherwise, he would inevitably be punished. These strict regulations affected Mohammad’s mental state and were reflected as a combination of fatigue and exhaustion that accompanied him throughout the day.
Dinner was served at seven in the evening in the dining hall, where Mohammad and his friends would again get no more than one portion each. Mohammad says that the senior supervisors may not have been aware of all the impositions the students were subjected to, but even that did not alleviate his exhaustion and rage. These harsh and unjust rules would later make him take a life-changing decision.
After dinner, students were allowed to leave the premises until nine o’clock. Then they would go back to sleep. But, Mohammad was not a time-abiding student, so he would sneak out to go for a walk with his friends in the nearby suburbs.
Upon his return after midnight, he sometimes managed to sneak back in. Other times, he had to quarrel with the guard to let him in.
As soon as he entered the room, he would lie down on his iron bed, which looked pretty much like a prison bed. Then, he would put his earphones on and play his favorite songs to forget his sorrows and pain.
For eighteen years, Mohammad’s days felt monotonous and the strictness and rigor of the supervisors made them even gloomier. He hated the boarding school and his life therein. One day, he was in his bed, listening to his roommates conversing. Thinking about his life, he suddenly knew, in that particular moment, what he had to do.
He quickly packed his things, carried his beloved “laptop”, and left the room, heading to the office of the Head of Integration. He told him that he didn’t want to stay in the boarding school anymore. Instead, he wants to return to the South to enter a public school and meet new people. The Head of Integration tried to dissuade Mohammad, but he was very determined to leave.
Mohammad made an irrevocable decision.
For eighteen years, Mohammad’s days felt monotonous and the strictness and rigor of the supervisors made them even gloomier
He left the office, and then the school, without blinking an eye. As he crossed the street, his heart and soul were overwhelmed with joy. He didn’t look back. He took the bus and headed to his family in the South, who were completely oblivious to his decision. When they saw him at the door, they thought he was coming to spend his bi-monthly vacation as usual, but, to their surprise, he merely said, “Forget about Beirut, forget about the boarding school.”
His family was understanding of his decision and did not oppose it, which opened the door for Mohammad to a new experience in Nabatiyeh Public Institute. However, the following days proved that the experience would not turn out the way he had imagined.
Today, Mohammad only remembers his first day at the institute as a bleak day. As soon as he passed the gate and walked into the playground, he could hear murmurs all around him and students’ voices erupting into laughter. He tried in vain to find out the reason for their laughing, but only later did he realize that he was wearing different pairs of shoes on each of his feet. That morning, while he was standing in the playground surrounded by the sounds of giggles, his heart was filled with sorrow, and he felt the need to cry.
More than that, he had to get used to the multiple difficulties he faced getting around by himself. There was no sidewalk meant for those who were, like himself, vision-challenged, and there were no traffic lights to facilitate crossing the road. Sometimes, someone would be nice enough to help him; however, when no one was there, he had to rely on his white cane to solve his problem independently. His cane was his only friend on the streets of Nabatieh, where his institute was located, and in the village of “Doueir”.
In his first class, Mohammad quickly realized that he would suffer in this new environment. There was no special equipment for the blind in the building, nothing helped him move between floors or inside the classroom itself.
His colleagues’ frequent bullying and mockery on the one hand, and his treatment as a special-needs student on the other hand, added to Mohammad’s misery. Had the building been well-equipped, at least, he would have been able to get by as he wished, independently, and would not have felt the way he did.
As soon as he passed the gate and walked into the playground, he could hear murmurs all around him and students’ voices erupting into laughter.
Despite all that, Mohammad remained determined to stay in school and decided not to allow anything to prevent him from achieving his goal.
In the following days, Mohammad met Mirna and her sister, who were studying Management and Marketing, just like him. They also lived near his house in Doueir. Mirna used to help him whenever he needed something in the classroom. She made sure to inform the teachers of his condition and explain to them that he could write his notes on his computer and study alone without any help.
Mirna and her sister were not the only friends he had. There was also Donia, who joked with him in their first meeting, while he was taking notes on his computer. And, through her acquaintance, he got to know Samira and Sahar. Mohammad started spending most of his time with this group of friends. They used to have fun, laugh, quarrel, then reconcile, and if any of them got into trouble, everyone would help in solving the problem. To him, these were truly unforgettable years.
However, Mohammad continued to feel that something irreplaceable was missing. The undeveloped academic curriculum, which did not take into account the blind, prevented him from following up on some subjects such as mathematics and finance, primarily due to the lack of any means that facilitated his learning.
Not only was he bullied by some students, but he was also discriminated against by some teachers. A teacher even told him once, without hesitation, that he should be aware that she was not responsible if he could not keep up with her fast explanations!
Mohammad took some of his exams orally and some others on the computer, but these examination methods were mocked by his classmates. He always heard hurtful comments, such as “They will give him a pity test and let him pass, as usual. An oral exam?…”, or “He only gets high grades because the teachers are lenient with him, unlike us. He could never get such grades if he was in our place…”. However, he remained unbothered as he was confident that he deserved his grades for the effort he made, not because of the teachers’ sympathy… Eventually, Mohammad proved he was up to the challenge and graduated with a TS degree in Management and Marketing.
In between all these struggles, the idea of the possibility of recovering his eyesight was always secretly present inside Mohammad’s head,
After his graduation, he decided to get married and find a job, but things did not go as he planned. His seven-year relationship with the first girl he fell in love with in boarding school had ended, and Mohammad found himself facing a society that did not recognize his emotions and needs. Whenever he got close to a girl, her family would barge in with the question, “What’s wrong with your eyes?”. They did not ask about his character, family, what he owns or does…
He was often hurt by that. He thought of himself as a normal person, and, to him, it was society’s view of him that was abnormal. He was blind, not stupid. According to Mohammad, people think that the reason he is looking for a wife is to so he can have someone to take care of him and help him carry out his daily personal routine, such as bathing and cleaning himself, etc.; not knowing that he is able to do all these things perfectly well on his own. This social stigma was the reason behind his separation from his fiancée less than eight months after their engagement, as if his life was destined to misery. He was engaged to an older girl, who was truly loyal to him, just as he was to her. But she found herself continuously criticized for her engagement.
– “You shouldn’t be doing this to yourself…! You are still in the prime of life; why marry someone like him?”, people would repeat to her.
As these criticisms grew more intense, the couple started to quarrel, and soon enough, the relationship was doomed. Today, however, Mohammad is not afraid to throw himself into a new romantic relationship, as long as his partner is blind, like him, and understands well what he’s going through.
After the breakup, he resorted to music and started playing the clarinet as a way of emotional coping. He wanted to express through music the sadness that had accompanied him throughout his life. In the past, when he was five, he learned to play the keyboards in his spare time, and later, he learned to play the clarinet to mend his broken heart.
In between all these struggles, the idea of the possibility of recovering his eyesight was always secretly present inside Mohammad’s head, despite the many disappointing operations he had undergone.
On July 12, 2005, Mohammad was 15 years old and his life was transformed. In the late hours of the night, he felt a sharp pain in his forehead near his optic nerve. The pain was so severe that he felt his whole head getting cold. He waited in vain for the pain to stop, while it only kept getting worse.
In the morning, he went with his mother to a specialist in Nabatieh. After he underwent the necessary examination, it became clear that his eyes needed an urgent operation. At first, Mohammad did not take it seriously.
Mohammad’s eye problems started shortly after his birth. At the age of two, doctors discovered that glaucoma had accumulated around his optic nerve. Since then, he had been blind. In the following years, he underwent numerous operations in an attempt to recover his eyesight, the most important of which was in Russia. That time, he received two corneas from a donor, hoping that they would deliver him from the darkness that had always accompanied him. The operation lasted for many hours, and in the end, Mohammad was transferred to his room in good condition.
It was cold and snowing outside. The doctor came to his bedside and took his bandages off, and for the first time in his life, Mohammad saw himself in the mirror. He could not control his overflowing joy when he discovered what a person looked like, for the first time ever. These were his eyes, nose, hands, and feet.
After this operation, Mohammad faced a new reality: he was now not only blind, but eyeless, too.
But his happiness was short-lived.
Suddenly, darkness engulfed him again. His eyesight had been recovered for a mere two hours, during which he was able to perceive four colors only. The white snow, the blue sky, the green trees, and the fourth color was the one he was most familiar with: black, which quickly shattered his dream again.
The new operation was his last hope. When he heard a doctor in Nabatieh saying that he must undergo an urgent operation, he thought it was just a procedure to treat glaucoma, after which he would recover his eyesight.
At seven in the morning, Mohammad went to the hospital in Nabatieh. He entered the reception room. The nurse gave him an identification card, and then, he went into the operating room. He was anxious, panicking, and his hands began to shake uncontrollably while he was waiting to be anesthetized. He asked to go to the toilet to calm himself down. He was waiting for a miracle, so he started praying, sometimes turning his head left and right in tension. He stayed in the bathroom for five minutes, during which he thought about his fate, his uncertain future, and his mental state after the operation.
The nurse knocked on the door and asked if he needed any help. Mohammad did not answer. The nurse knocked again to no avail. The third time, Mohammad came out, surrendering himself to whatever fate might bring.
He was taken to the operating room, and sat on the bed. After he was anesthetized, the operation began, but he still felt pain. It was an excruciating kind of pain that he could never forget.
The operation lasted two and a half hours, after which he was transferred to the intensive care unit, where he was monitored for two hours, then transferred to a regular room. Mohammad woke up, blindfolded. He felt things in his heart that he could not tell anyone, not even his mother, who would not leave his side for a single moment. He grew suspicious when the nurse came in to check on him every ten minutes. He wanted to find out what had happened during the operation, because he had mixed sentiments, one telling him that something terrible had happened, and another calming him down. Just before he fell asleep, he began to realize that something serious must have happened. The anesthetic wore off, and the headache he felt was so severe that he almost passed out. He asked his family to go home because he wanted to be alone. The pain persisted throughout the early hours of the dawn. He spent the entire night alone, frightened, heavy-hearted, and clueless about what had happened during the operation, but he could sense that everyone around him was worried and hesitant to talk about it.
At nine o’clock in the morning, the doctor entered Mohammad’s room. He looked at his mother and told her that he couldn’t talk to Mohammad for fear that he would “hurt his feelings”. Mohammad, then, placed both his hands on the bandage and said:
– “I know what happened during the operation.”
In fact, Mohammad knew nothing, but that was his way of prompting them to talk. He wanted to urge them to tell him what had happened. The doctor approached him and began removing his bandage. Mohammad remained calm, but he was screaming on the inside.
– “Now, Doctor, what happened?”
– “You lost your eyes.”
– “Explain to me what happened, in detail.”
– “We used three needles to withdrew water from your head, behind the optic nerve. But we could not save your eyes. They were cracked due to the many operations you underwent. So we had to remove them…”
This sentence echoed in his head over and over… He did not blame the doctor. He knew he had done his best, but at that moment, he had only one desire: to leave the hospital and go back home. On the following day, the doctor allowed him to be discharged as long as he comes back for regular checkups on his wound.
After this operation, Mohammad faced a new reality: he was now not only blind, but eyeless, too. A month and a half after his eyes were removed, he borrowed some money, despite his family’s economic hardship, and bought himself a pair of glass eyes to replace the ones he had lost, but those proved to be a bad investment, as they fell to the ground and broke only one week later. He could no longer buy another pair since he was still paying off his debt. Mohammad had to make do with no eyes at all.
To this day, the ghost of this series of unfortunate events still haunts him. Whenever he tries to sleep, the memories of the horrible punishment in the boarding school and the excruciating pain of the operation that ended catastrophically come flooding back.
Mohammad spent nearly four years following his graduation looking for a job opportunity that never came. Frustrated, he began to consider immigrating. He wanted to leave Lebanon for a country that recognizes his rights and respects him as a human being.
During this period, Mohammad submitted job applications to a large number of establishments, most of which kept their doors shut in his face. He was like any young man who aspired for the stability that a job could provide him, so he could later have his parents’ home and start a family.
He couldn’t understand why someone like him, with enough skills and abilities, couldn’t exercise his basic right to find a job. When he gave up on that, he started looking for “connections”. That meant resorting to the offices of political parties and leaders’ houses who might be able to “recommend him” or refer him to someone.
One time, when he went to meet a party official in his region, the secretary entered the official’s office to inform him that Mohammad was there. From his seat outside the office, Mohammad could hear the official whispering to his secretary inside:
– “Tell him that I am not here.”
Mohammad did not wait for the secretary to come back; he left the office immediately, with a broken heart. He felt deeply hurt that a sighted person wanted to deliberately fool him and disrespect him. Indeed, he does not see, but he was perfectly able to hear him lying.
The process of job-hunting, with all the overthinking that went with it, caused him many mental and physical problems. He even developed diabetes, which pushed him to the verge of despair.
By chance, however, Mohammad picked up a ray of hope after a random meeting in a phone shop, where someone asked him how he made his living. Mohammad told him his story: he has turned twenty-seven years old, he has looked everywhere for a job, yet, he still had to ask his family for an allowance.
The man suggested that Mohammad ask the wife of the Lebanese Parliament Speaker, Randa Berri, to help him get a job in an establishment that hires someone with his qualifications.
And so he did, nurturing a regained hope of getting a job, albeit through a kind of nepotism. He knew he had exhausted all attempts to find a job through a regular manner. However, society and the government have never provided people like him with any of the tools or conditions they desperately needed to achieve their goals under fair conditions. Therefore, resorting to “the close circles of those in power” was a faster and more effective alternative than resorting to the state itself! Berri welcomed him, so he thought of her as the only one who had helped him get the least of his rights, that is, a job.
Mohammad’s dream of getting a job came true. However, his other dream of finding love remains suspended until the day how society sees him changes…
A week after his visit, his phone rang. The voice that came from the other side said: “Hello? Mohammad, it’s your first day at work, and you’re late already!?” It was his new boss calling to inform him that he got a job as a phone-operator. He couldn’t believe his ears.
On his first day, he was overwhelmed with excitement. He left his house early, crossed the street quickly, and took a taxi. But, as he got closer to his workplace, Mohammad grew anxious and fearful. He started to recite some Quranic verses to calm himself down. However, as soon as he arrived there, he instantly knew that there was no need for worry. His colleagues welcomed him with open arms, as if they had known him for a long time.
He sat at his desk and felt the machines and objects around him with his hands to familiarize himself with the surroundings. Then, he started asking his colleague about everything he couldn’t figure out: “This is the fax machine, and here is the phone. Number 1 connects you to the director, and number 2 connects you to the accounting office…”
His new colleagues called him to have breakfast with them. They ate and chatted, and he got to take the time to know them and introduce himself, in turn. On that day, he could feel kindness and friendship in the air.
As time passed, the job grew well on Mohammad. According to him, his time at work was not limited to making or receiving calls. Because of his job, he had the chance to communicate with people and learn about their problems and struggles. Mohammad excelled in every task, and people joked around with him, calling him “Ogero no. 2” for his amazing ability to memorize and categorize numbers.
Mohammad’s dream of getting a job came true. However, his other dream of finding love remains suspended until the day how society sees him changes… until the day people learn how to truly accept him.
Writer: Mahdi Dirani
Translated From Arabic: Rawan Mokdad
Illustration: Alaa karaki, Fatima Fneish
Multimedia Supervision: Fourate Chahal El Rekaby
Design: Ibrahim Charara
Editing: Rida Hariri, Sabah Jalloul
Development: Jaafar Charara, Rawan Houri
Editor: Ibrahim Charara
The subjects of the stories published on the StoryLeb platform were chosen by the young journalists and media creators who participated in the first training session of the project.
This project benefitted from the financial assistance of the European Commission within the framework of the project Shabab Live, a joint project of Deutsche Welle Akademie, Arab Resource Center for popular Arts and Al Khatt. The content of this video is the sole responsibility of StoryLeb and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Commission or the project partners.