The gardens of Damascus: Can Syrians reconnect with nature?

An edited version of this article appeared online in the Middle East Eye on May 26, 2019.

By Alex Ray

“When people pluck these flowers, it’s like they are plucking my heart,” said an emotional Fareed Notafji as we drank sweet, strong ‘labourer’s tea’ in front of the guard shed at Damascus’s Botanic Gardens.

The sound of the fast-flowing Barada river accentuated the gardens’ dreamy setting beneath the old city walls.  The location made it possible to momentarily forget the ongoing war outside the Syrian capital. Continue reading

Storms bring ideal waves for surfing, but also trash

This article appeared in the print version of Lebanon’s Daily Star on February 27, 2018. It can be accessed online here.

by Alex Ray
BEIRUT: When storms lashed Lebanon in January, they delivered an abysmal reminder of its garbage crisis: a coastline carpeted in trash. Being the middle of winter, Lebanon’s famed beaches were mostly deserted after the mess. But one group could still be found diving headfirst into the waste. Continue reading

Jordan, the view from Gaza Camp

By Alex Ray

“The Kebabs are ready dad!” Faris yells over his shoulder. His father, busy preparing the bread and tomatoes cannot hear him, so he calls again. “Dad, they are ready!”

Taking matters into his own hands, Faris locates a near-full jerry can of water and drags it across the grassy picnic ground to douse the coals on the barbecue. Faris is only four years old and the jerry can is only slightly shorter than he is. But like most of Jordan’s refugee children he is fast learning to be independent.

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The Stamp Collection: Amman’s assault on the senses.

The light of Amman, Jordan is strikingly similar to many parts of Australia, perhaps derived from the age of both areas – their vibrancy worn by thousands of years of activity.

The light is dry, bright, harsh and shallow – like the contrast has been turned up on the TV. It refracts off the ubiquitous sandy grey surfaces of every building, leaving few shady refuges. The glare is intensified by the doggedly cloudless sky, making you lose  sense of distance and scale as the cinder-block buildings roll over the endless hills. Continue reading

The stamp collection

Although it is hard to single out individual aspects of any transformative trip as the most enjoyed, most educational or most memorable, this series of posts will tease out thoughts and sentiments from some of the photos I have collected from the Arab world. They mark influential moments and experiences that I would like to share.

Ruins, The Sea and The Snow.Elle Ba'albek

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A taxi driver told me: “A woman’s body is like a piece of meat…”

Alex Ray

Amman, Jordan April 2013.

The taxi pushed through the ceaseless traffic of the capital’s wealthy western suburbs. Gazing out of the open window, I was met by a blast of hot air. It was spring and by Australian standards, certainly shorts and T-shirts weather. My decision to wear knee length shorts to class that day had caught the driver’s eye. Continue reading

Unis need proper links with Arab countries

Through my own attempts to study Arabic in-country in my undergraduate years I became aware of a shocking lack of support for Australian students interested in studying in the Arab world.

While opportunities for students wishing to study abroad in North America, Europe and increasingly East Asia, are vast, not one Australian university offers students the chance to spend a semester or more on the ground in an Arabic speaking country. Continue reading