Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa


children of yemen
A malnourished newborn baby lies in an incubator at a hospital in Sanaa. The Yemeni conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, and driven millions more to the brink of famine in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. November, 2019. Photo: Mohammed HUWAIS / AFP

Saba Hamzah
A writer from Yemen

Over the past few days, a few peanuts caused a severe allergic reaction. For a second, I even thought I might be going blind! Everything around me seemed blurry, even the moment I’m living in.

I have been reading the works of Al-Baradouni, the enlightened blind Yemeni poet and writer. I jokingly told a friend: It seems that I am living the Baradouni experience.

Blindness is a story written by noble writer José Saramago, a romantic novelist, whose words are so beautiful, that you regret that he left this world before you got the chance to meet him. Saramago did not write about love, for he lived it with Pilar, whom he always dedicates the first page of his novels to. Pilar, his wife and translator whom he loved dearly. He said to her: “Thank you Pilar for staying by my side and not leaving me to die.”

Jose Saramago wrote about human, their concerns, suffering and fears. He wrote about the injustices that an individual is exposed to and the fear of going against the masses and disturbing stagnant waters.

I have always thought about the cruelty of life, which steals your sight after you have known colours, the sky, the sun, the moon, places and things, people’s emotions, tears that are hidden in the eyes of a loved one or a friend, then it’s all taken away as the light of life is no longer in you.

In his novel, Blindness, he spoke of a city whose people were faced with an epidemic of white evil. An epidemic that obscures people’s vision and only allows them to see an intense milky white, unlike the complete darkness that you live in when you are blind, but the end result is the same. You are blind either way. No one had heard of an epidemic that causes blindness so there were no vaccines or any precautionary measures that could have been taken from a similar epidemic. It would have been foolish to tell people that an epidemic of blindness was sweeping the city!

As I said before, Saramago writes about humans, their thoughts, desires, oppression, tyranny, weakness and strength. It plunges into the depth of human emotions and places people under a microscope in an experimental situation. Just like a lab rat that is tested for scientific research. But Saramago knows perfectly well that humans have incomprehensible tendencies that appear at certain times and what might seem evil is in fact the only good thing at that moment.

When the government finally confirmed it was an infection, it detained patients in the insane asylum and placed them under quarantine, but after suffering for weeks, they went out to discover that everyone in the city had gone blind. This fantasy invented by Saramago is not pure fiction, for reality says that we are born blind.

As you read the novel, Blindness, you are also stripped of your understanding of blindness, of searching for scientific explanations for the phenomenon, and of the superficial meaning that may seep through your eyes. Think about how many times you have been blind; how many times you pretended to be blind and how many times you wish you were blind. Think about the gruesome scenes spread across social media posts, on television screens, and in the pages of newspapers and magazines. And remember well: How many times have you turned a blind eye?

When a shell from friendly fire fell on civilians, when the rights of the oppressed were plundered by those close to them, when a government you support tortures a powerless people, and when the sheikh, the Sayyid and the scholar hide behind religion for a purely secular purpose. How many times have you felt remorse and wished you were blind?

When you see your neighbour who was detained and who has returned after losing all his senses because he spoke up one day against an injustice that you turned a blind eye to, when you see a neighbourhood child, who once filled the street with her laughter, torn by a sniper shell by those you support and who you were desperate to defend. When you see a friend, who returned from war with an amputated arm, a broken foot, and a spirit that had its glow stolen by the oppressors?

When you read the novel Blindness, pay attention to the timing. Read it on an empty stomach and an ignited soul. You will need the light of your soul to illuminate the white darkness experienced by the characters of the novel, and you will want an empty stomach to avoid vomiting from time to time. So, as I suggested: an empty stomach. Allow yourself to be every character in the story and think about what must be done and what must not be allowed to happen. Evaluate your principles if you can, as it is an opportunity to see if animals have principles! Do not be offended by the word animal, as it may be the most loyal companion.

José Saramago died in 2010 after his battle with leukemia. But does a creator die? I do not think so. As his sweetheart Pilar said, “José is not dead.”

José the child was born in 1922 to a poor family in Portugal. He did not complete his primary education but moved to vocational school at an early age due to his family’s inability to pay his tuition. He worked as a mechanic, then as a translator and a journalist. He did not start writing until the age of sixty. José Saramago is a story of love, hope and true awakening for all who seek the true meaning of life.

When you read the novel, remember the story of the grieving woman who prayed for the ruler and said: “May God turn your eyes white.” Because blindness is black, the ruler thought that she was asking God to bless him, and José was not yet born to write to us about white evil and white blindness and about people who yearn for darkness. And you must also say, may God turn to white the eyes of those who have turned the lives of humans into an unbearable hell.


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

The blog was published in Arabic at

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